5 technology trends for 2018

Predicting the near future of Internet technology is a fool’s errand. After all, how many of you predicted that Bitcoin would increase in value manyfold last year? The year before that, the Pokemon Go craze seemingly came out of nowhere.

So every year, something new and wholly unexpected happens in technology. However, some trends I can predict with a reasonable amount of accuracy. I’ll highlight five of them in this column.

Regardless of the short term fluctuations in cryptocurrencies, this year will see continued growth in Bitcoin and the leading “altcoins” like Ether, Bitcoin Cash and Ripple.

At the end of last year, we saw a great deal of mainstream interest in Bitcoin – including from Wall Street. Expect to see further institutional money pour into cryptocurrencies in 2018, although there are two caveats to that.

Firstly, there’s always a risk of a large hack or something else that brings down a prominent exchange. Such an event would spook institutional investors.

Secondly, and more fundamentally, a lot depends on how the regulation of cryptocurrencies plays out this year. Particularly in the US, but also in our own country. The New Zealand Financial Markets Authority (FMA) issued its first advisories about cryptocurrency at the end of last year, and I expect it to be even more vigilant this year. Also, the IRD is actively looking into how to tax cryptocurrency trading. It hasn’t yet released guidelines, but that will likely happen this year.

For kiwis, the main concern about cryptocurrency going into 2018 is how our banks deal with it. Last year they cracked down on Bitcoin. But this year, I don’t think they have any choice but to accept it. Bitcoin futures are being traded on Wall Street now, so there’s no reason why our banks shouldn’t accept it too.

This year we’ll also see more progress on the technology underlying bitcoin: blockchain.

Blockchain is a difficult technology to get your head around, partly because it’s still very early in its evolution. I’ve seen people in blockchain circles compare it to the Web in the mid-1990s. So with that comparison in mind, blockchain in 2018 will be about continuing to build out its infrastructure.

The key blockchain to watch this year will be Ethereum. Not only is it the second largest blockchain, behind only Bitcoin, but it was designed to be a development platform for apps. Or “Dapps” as they’re called in Ethereum’s world (Decentralized Apps). Expect many more ICOs this year, as promising new Dapp startups emerge on Ethereum and other blockchains.

The biggest issue with public blockchains currently is their inability to scale quickly. The CryptoKitties craze clogged up the Ethereum network at the end of last year, and so this year Ethereum will need to stabilise its platform and speed up transaction times.

Social media had a mixed year last year. More people made their voices heard, which is a good thing, but unfortunately it led to a deafening amount of noise. Facebook also had issues with “fake news” and suspected Russian interference in its network.

Facebook in particular has a PR problem going into this year. Can it attract our ‘likes’ again? To its credit, Facebook recently¬†admitted that consuming too much social media is bad for us. To try and fix this, the company has vowed to shift its focus to “enhancing your relationships offline, not detracting from them.”

It’s a lovely goal, but I don’t see it happening. To do it Facebook would need to demote news from its platform, because the daily news is what provides most of the outrage that social media feeds off. However, Facebook’s current control over how news is disseminated is a big part of why it’s so dominant in society. I don’t expect that to change this year.

Let’s look at mobile now. I expect the biggest mobile trend this year to be Augmented Reality apps. Last year Apple introduced the iPhone 8 and iPhone X models, both of which enable high quality AR. I think a killer app for AR will arrive this year.

It may be another Pokemon Go-like game, but I’m hoping it’ll be something with more utility: like a furniture shopping AR app. Imagine overlaying a 3D image of a new sofa into your lounge, using your phone.

My final trend to watch out for this year is for more things in your household to get connected to the Internet. Voice-activated virtual assistants, like Alexa and Google Assistant, are currently embedded into our mobile phones and speaker devices like Amazon Echo. But in 2018, we’ll see those virtual assistants start to inhabit your TV and other household items.

Samsung’s Bixby technology is the one to watch here, since Samsung has already promised to integrate Bixby into some of its TV models this year.

So those are my picks for 2018: cryptocurrency mania continuing, blockchain infrastructure slowly building, Facebook struggling to shrug off its PR problem, a breakthrough AR app with utility, and talking TVs. Let me know your technology predictions in the comments.